Workplace injuries worrying hospital union

The Hospital Employees’ Union is concerned about a spike in workplace injuries at St. Joseph’s General Hospital — particularly in long-term care.

Michael Pontus

Michael Pontus

The Hospital Employees’ Union is concerned about a spike in workplace injuries at St. Joseph’s General Hospital — particularly in long-term care.

According to WorkSafeBC, claims accepted from long-term care at St. Joseph’s rose from 11 in 2008 to 20 in 2009. Acute care claims went down slightly from 44 in 2008 to 42 in 2009.

From 2005-2009, WorkSafeBC accepted 208 claims from acute care at St. Joseph’s and 64 claims from long-term care.

During that time period, total claims costs in acute care were $2,801,537, while the total cost in long-term care was $371,956. In those five years, 13,725 days were lost in acute care, while 3,804 days were lost in long-term care.

“It was a considerable increase, and I was concerned there’s not as much information available about what these particular injuries are,” said Sandra Ford, a local servicing representative for the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU). “My view is if they don’t look at what are the primary factors in the case of these injuries, how do they know how to fix them?”

St. Joseph’s is working to address the workplace injuries.

“We had a particular spike in injuries one particular year and still are above the norm we would like, so we are doing all the things we can do to ensure the workplace is a safe place, as safe as we can make it,” said Michael Pontus, the hospital’s president and CEO. “In addition, we’re working with a program called SafeStart with staff. We’re taking this very seriously and doing lots of positive things to ensure the possibility of injury is reduced to the minimum it can but recognizing there are unpredictabilities when caring for people who may have dementia and the like.

“We try to make the predictable actions known to staff so they can be careful. We’ve adopted the catchphrase ‘safety begins with me,’ and we’re taking a very positive approach to this and staff are appreciating it so far.”

St. Joseph’s started the SafeStart program as a pilot project in three locations this fall.

The program initiates a sense of alertness to one’s environment, threats in the environment and opportunities to make corrective changes before something unfortunate occurs.

“It’s all about awareness,” said Pontus.

Ford sees the SafeStart program as a first step.

“It’s something, but it’s not going to capture everything,” she said. “It’s a general program that gets people to think about being safe in their working environment. It brings it to the forefront … but there are a lots of things that could be happening. We need to take a look at the cause of injuries to know.”

Pontus says he wishes he knew what contributes to the spike in workplace injuries.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” he said. “We look at these trends, analyze them … if we think it’s equipment or space or environment, then we make those changes. We do the very best we can, and we try to see where we can intervene to make it better. This year, we are making some progress over prior years, and we hope that progress continues and even improves. We have good staff, so they are working with us. They’re concerned as well.”

Ford thinks there are a multitude of factors that contribute to the rise in injuries at St. Joseph’s.

“The injuries seem to primarily be musculoskeletal injuries according to the employer, so what tends to happen when these types of injuries are occurring is we could be looking at a change in the acuity of the patient — the patient needs more assistance, they might become ill, their condition worsens — so the care needs change,” she said.

Workload and staffing are also a contributing factor to increased injuries, according to Ford.

“If people are rushing and hurrying, they don’t quite pay as much attention to their surroundings and physical being,” she said. “It’s been reported that the employer may ask for extra duties to be added to a shift, but they don’t take anything away. We think this contributes to increased injury.”

Another factor is the physical space itself, which could become cramped and cluttered, noted Ford.

Ford emphasized that the hospital is making an effort to find solutions to this issue.

“I want to be clear that although this is shocking, these numbers, we are seeing the employer trying to do something,” she said. “It might not be to our satisfaction … but they do recognize it is a significant amount of injury and something needs to be done.”

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